Unseasonal sandstorm hits Lebanon, Syria

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Unseasonal sandstorm hits Lebanon, Syria
A sandstorm shrouds the capital city of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. An unseasonal sandstorm has hit Lebanon and Syria, reducing visibility and sending dozens to hospitals with breathing difficulties. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
A sandstorm shrouds the coastal capital of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. An unseasonal sandstorm has hit Lebanon and Syria, reducing visibility and sending dozens to hospitals with breathing difficulties because of the fine dust. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
A Palestinian man wears a mask to protect his face from the dust as he walks past the Dome of the Rock mosque in the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, during a sandstorm on September 8, 2015, in the old city of Jerusalem. A massive sandstorm has blanketed much of the Middle East. Large parts of Lebanon, Israel and Cyprus were shrounded in a thick cloud of dust that meteorologists said had swept in from Iraq and Syria. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI (Photo credit should read AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Lebanese woman covers her face with a veil as she walks amid the dust as a sandstorm blows over the Lebanese city of Baalbek in the Bekaa valley on September 8, 2015. Two people have died in Lebanon and hundreds been treated for respiratory problems as a massive sandstorm blankets much of the Middle East, Lebanon's health ministry said. AFP PHOTO /STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A Lebanese jogger runs despite the dust on the Corniche seaside promenade in downtown Beirut as a sandstorm blows over the Lebanese capital on September 8, 2015. At least two people died and 750 cases of suffocation were reported in Lebanon because of the sandstorm, said the Health ministry. AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)
An Israeli man holds up the fish he caught on the Mediterranean Sea beach front, covered with a blanket of yellow dust, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. An unseasonal sandstorm has hit the Middle East, reducing visibility and sending dozens to hospitals with breathing difficulties. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
A picture taken on September 8, 2015 shows minarets and a church tower in downtown Beirut as the sky looks dull yellow due to a sandstorm blowing over the Lebanese capital. At least two people died and 750 cases of suffocation were reported in Lebanon because of the sandstorm, said the Health ministry. AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian woman stands outside her tent surrounded by a cloud of dust during a sandstorm on September 7, 2015 at a refugee camp on the outskirts of the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A man walks on the rocky coastal area along the Beirut coastline during a sandstorm in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. An unseasonal sandstorm has hit Lebanon and Syria, reducing visibility and sending dozens to hospitals with breathing difficulties because of the fine dust. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
People swim at the public beach of Ramlet al Bayda during a sand storm in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. An unseasonal sandstorm has hit Lebanon and Syria, reducing visibility and sending dozens to hospitals with breathing difficulties. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
A Lebanese woman covers her face with a tissue as she walks amid the dust in downtown Beirut during a sandstorm blowing over the Lebanese capital on September 8, 2015. At least two people died and 750 cases of suffocation were reported in Lebanon because of the sandstorm, said the Health ministry. AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)
A sandstorm shrouds the capital city of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. An unseasonal sandstorm has hit Lebanon and Syria, reducing visibility and sending dozens to hospitals with breathing difficulties. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Vehicles drive on a highway heading to the Mediterranean city of Limassol as a sandstorm hits the island of Cyprus on September 8, 2015. Large parts of Lebanon, Israel and Cyprus were shrounded in a thick cloud of dust that meteorologists said had swept in from Iraq and Syria. AFP PHOTO / IAKOVOS HATZISTAVROU (Photo credit should read IAKOVOS HATZISTAVROU/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian refugee woman covers her face to protect herself from the dust during a sandstorm at a refugee camp on September 8, 2015 near the Bekaa Valley village of Taalabaya. Two people have died in Lebanon and hundreds been treated for respiratory problems as a massive sandstorm blankets much of the Middle East, Lebanon's health ministry said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Lebanese activists aligned with the 'You Stink' campaign rest on matresses on September 8, 2015 as the sky looks dull yellow due to a sandstorm blowing over the Lebanese capital. Two people were killed in Lebanon by a massive sandstorm that has blanketed much of the Middle East, Lebanon's health ministry said. Lebanese activists set up tents outside the Environment ministry and started a hunger strike to demand the resignation of the Environment minister, who is at the centre of the country's waste crisis. AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)
A view of the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Helweh in southern Lebanon during a sandstorm on September 8, 2015. Two people were killed in Lebanon by a massive sandstorm that has blanketed much of the Middle East, Lebanon's health ministry said. AFP PHOTO /MAHMOUD ZAYYAT (Photo credit should read MAHMOUD ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian refugee children look on from a window during a sandstorm at a refugee camp on September 8, 2015 near the Bekaa Valley village of Taalabaya. Two people have died in Lebanon and hundreds been treated for respiratory problems as a massive sandstorm blankets much of the Middle East, Lebanon's health ministry said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on September 8, 2015 shows a bronze statue in downtown Beirut as the sky looks dull yellow due to a sandstorm blowing over the Lebanese capital. At least two people died and 750 cases of suffocation were reported in Lebanon because of the sandstorm, said the Health ministry. AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)
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BEIRUT (AP) — An unseasonal sandstorm hit Lebanon and Syria, covering Beirut and Damascus with a blanket of yellow dust on Tuesday, sending hundreds of people to hospitals with breathing difficulties and causing the deaths of two women, officials said.

Reduced visibility prompted the Syrian government to call off airstrikes against rebel fighters in a central province, local media reported, and threatened a planned protest by Lebanese activists over the government's inability to deal with the country's rampant trash crisis.

The storm reached Beirut on Tuesday, a day after it engulfed eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. People, especially those with health issues, were advised to stay indoors while many of those who ventured onto the streets donned surgical masks.

The Lebanese Health Ministry said 750 people suffered breathing problems across the country, and that two women died because of the sandstorm, without providing details. Two boats set adrift were rescued by coast guard, the National News Agency said. Airport officials reported some flight delays.

Lebanese authorities warned residents against burning trash that has piled up on Beirut streets this summer, sparking a political crisis and daily protests.

Lucien Bourjeili, one of the protest organizers, said the bad weather may prevent some people from taking to the streets in a major protest planned Wednesday, though "this movement doesn't depend on the weather ... or one day."

The storm reached the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Tuesday. The Syrian pro-government Al-Watan newspaper said it forced a halt in airstrikes against rebel fighters north of the central province of Hama.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, said hospitals in the al-Mayadeen town in the northern Deir el-Zour province ran out of oxygen cylinders and were unable to take in more patients.

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